With the necessary funding, the U.S. Route 33 corridor could be a testing ground paving the way for autonomous vehicles.

With the necessary funding, the U.S. Route 33 corridor could be a testing ground paving the way for autonomous vehicles.

The roadway between Dublin and Marysville is one of multiple testing grounds identified by Ohio State University's Ohio Smart Mobility Initiative.

The goal is to provide a test bed for autonomous and connected vehicles, said Carla Bailo, assistant vice president, mobility research and development with OSU.

Dublin is trying to leverage its available wireless signal using fiberoptics network DubLINK, said Doug McCollough, Dublin's chief information officer. Necessary infrastructure for the corridor could include small equipment such as road sensors and stop light cameras.

McCollough said he doesn't see the city using the general fund or requesting other public funding for the autonomous vehicle initiative. Rather, the goal would be to use revenue from DubLINK to invest in technology infrastructure.

The fiberoptics network generates revenue because the city leases access to telecommunications companies to provide their services to the public, McCollough said.

McCullough said Dublin has benefitted for many years from investing early in fiberoptics. That experience has taught city officials the economic importance of technology investment. As such, officials have identified autonomous vehicles as the way of the future and want to be deeply involved in the research.

"The city of Dublin wants to lead as far as technology investment in the region," McCullough said.

Dublin's involvement in autonomous vehicle research could have a potentially enormous economic development benefit, McCullough said.

Any companies with products to deliver would benefit from delivering more products with fewer drivers, and companies would want to locate facilities in areas with smart mobility initiatives.

One of the biggest benefits would be safety, he said.

"We expect this technology to lower traffic-related deaths," McCullough said.

Autonomous vehicles would also extend driving capabilities to the disabled and elderly, allowing them to establish or maintain transportation to work -- another economic benefit, McCullough said.

Dublin, Marysville and Union County have teamed up to research the feasibility of the installation and maintenance of a fiberoptic network from Dublin to Marysville that would also connect to the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, said Eric Phillips, executive director of Union County Community Improvement Corporation.

They have hired Ice Miller LLP to put together a request for information to figure out the cost to design, engineer and potentially operate the fiberoptic network, Phillips said. He expects to receive proposals in the next couple months and said there has yet to be any funding commitment.

Phillips said the connection to OSU's Ohio Smart Mobility Initiative came about through collaborations Dublin, Marysville, Union County and Jerome and Millcreek townships have had to promote the Northwest 33 Innovation Corridor as an economic development area. The fiberoptics project is a key to the area's use as a testing ground for connected and autonomous vehicles.

"That is an added benefit to the fiber network," he said.

In addition to Route 33, the initiative also plans to utilize TRC, OSU's Center for Automotive Research and the Sports Pavilion & Automotive Research Complex, Bailo said.

SPARC is a planned multi-use venue developed by Arshot Investment Corporation that will be located on the site of the former Cooper Stadium in Columbus.

Routes will also be in the city of Columbus, but definitive information is pending, Bailo said.

"We will need a way to connect from the U.S. 33 Corridor to the SPARC site," she said.

Bailo said it made sense to use the 33 corridor because it serves as the major link between TRC and OSU. The four-lane divided highway also doesn't have a constant high volume of traffic, making it easier for testing to be conducted.

The traffic that is there will give researchers the opportunity to test how artificial intelligence programs interact with other vehicles.

During testing periods, a vehicle will have someone behind the wheel at all times, Bailo said.

Bailo said the initiative is key for this area's economy and future work force. While there are a number of automotive businesses in Ohio, they're all conducting testing outside the state, in Michigan, California and Texas.

It makes sense, she said, for Ohio to be progressive in its research, and stop sending businesss to other states.

Potential vehicles on the roadway could include cars and heavy duty trucks, but agriculture and maintenance equipment could be tested off the roadway, Bailo said.

"It could be many, many different kinds of products," she said.

Because the area is not a Federal Aviation Administration-approved drone space, there will be no opportunity for drones testing, she said.

The plan is to secure federal and state funding, Bailo said. The first step is to identify necessary specifications, form pricing and request funding.

"We hope to start the infrastructure work this summer and start testing as soon as it is available after installation," she said.